Tackling Technique: Spring Is In The Air.

Submitted by maizedandconfused on June 16th, 2011 at 12:32 PM

So the coaching change.

This off-season has had two main points of contention.

  1. Whether or not Denard can still Denard people under center and in the pocket
  2. Whether Mattison will turn our ramshackle defense of 2010 into a warrior manbear.

I tend to focus on the defense [insert joke of how watching tape time and again of last year's defense is akin to watching a sport about kicking puppies] and in that regard I feel that it was folly to look at our defense last year as a whole, mostly because we were so small. So I look at tackling technique.

For the season in review from last year, you can look here [Ed-M: or for you Sparknoters, here's a picture:


That is an incredibly depressing starting point. Can it improve? Has it already? Let's head down to the spring game from this year, with the same equations as before:

Tackling Efficiency = (Made tackles – Missed Tackles) / (Bad Form Tackles + 1)

  • Bad form tackles account for terrible form (bad angles, too high, getting shook etc)

Tackling % =  Made tackles  / Made + Missed

And Hope. We tackled. Well at times even. Against a prolific offense (I will assume a 75% production level from last year which still makes it a prolific offense).

Now to the comparison. Included are season averages for any returning players I  had reliable numbers on.

Spring Game in Blue and 2010 Season in Red

Tackling Efficiency.

Tackling Percentage.


  • This is one small data set to derive from. Our offense was still learning the system and we probably had not instituted a lot of coverage packages or blitz packages
  • That being said, you can easily see improvement in technique and ability. We came in in good form, and more often than not made the tackle.
  • If Jake Ryan can produce at that level against our 1s, he should start over Cam Gordon. That kid was absolutely everywhere. My best takeaway message from this was that sending him off the edge on a blitz was a matchup problem if he was being blocked by a [Ed-M: 3rd string] TE or even a T. He was good in coverage, and filled holes on the run. I cannot stress enough how impressed I was by his play.
  • I don’t think Kovacs had a very good day. I can’t say at this point that I would rather have Marvin Robinson start, but based on the fact that he provided minimal run support here and little coverage support last year, I think his athleticism, or lack thereof, might be a net negative if he's in a starting role. However tackling hasn't been a problem for him before, so a platoon role with Robinson inside the M 30 might make use of his strengths without exposing his weaknesses so much, provided that...
  • Marvin Robinson is a good football player. He might have made a bad read on that long TD, but he was there in coverage and made some nice plays on run support. I would like to see him spell Kovacs in lesser games to build confidence and play reading ability.
  • I am REALLY excited about Richard Ash. Had good hands and solid footwork coming off the edge and held up against single teams.
  • Marell Evans is a solid option. I'm interested to see how the fall competition between him and Demens plays out. I also don’t know who our starting LBs will be, as Ryan, Jones, Gordon, Demens, and Evans all have upside... finally some depth.
  • Will Campbell was Will Campbell. Made some good plays, and just didn’t get moved some plays. I feel like he still loses aggression every so often, but if he finds out how to turn it on every play he can be a manbeast.
  • Carvin Johnson is [metaphorically a male horse used for breeding]. Enough said.
  • I did not notice Mike Martin too often, which is good and bad. Jibreel Black might be the player I'm most excited to watch develop this year. He is going to be a MONSTER.
  • Finally, Courtney Avery will be a starter come September. Good coverage, good run support. Also, I liked Greg Brown.



June 16th, 2011 at 12:45 PM ^

Appreciate the data support, small sample and all. I also consider illinois' big defense improvement from 09-10 when they changed coordinators in my vision of future defensive improvement.


June 16th, 2011 at 12:52 PM ^

The first sentence of your first conclusion not withstanding, this is an interesting read and I appreciate your insight as it looks like you've probably scoured the film of the Spring Game as closely as anyone.


June 16th, 2011 at 1:13 PM ^

Maizedandconfused, looks like you put some time into this, looks interesting. Since you probably know more about our current D players than I do, who do you think will start at LB and DB after watching the film?


June 16th, 2011 at 10:09 PM ^

I'm going to put Marell Demens and Ryan.. but that being said if Cam puts on some good weight he could be a rotation. All 4 of them are solid to great options.

DBs.. thats a harder question.

There are 2 certain starters I feel in Woolfolk and C. Johnson. Kovacs should be your starrter day 1 but I feel that Marvin should earn minutes and potentially the starting job at some point in the season. Kovacs should still put up solid minutes regardless.

At the 2 CB, that is a huge ?. I think at this point in time, based on matchups that Avery will start. I was never a huge fan of Flyod, and I think that Avery might be a potential B10 guy at some point. That being said, I could also see Countess pushing for time by the midpoint of the season, and I think Andersen is extremely underrated.



June 16th, 2011 at 1:25 PM ^

you put together, however I would submit there are four concerns the two you mentioned the running game and Special Teams of of concern to many of us fans.  Much of our success and especially Denard's will depend on those last two as well.  Would love to see how those last components improve this fall.  Again great piece


June 16th, 2011 at 2:10 PM ^

Very interesting to read and look over. I also am excited for Jake Ryan and Courtney Avery, just to name a couple. Ryan will definitely be a nice backup for Cam (or even starter over Cam). 


June 16th, 2011 at 2:53 PM ^

I put together the "actual spring stats" for Magnus over at touch the banner, so I've taken a pretty long look at the game as well.  Personal opinion, but the three best LB's in the spring game were easily Marell Evans, Mike Jones and Jake Ryan.  Ryan was excellent on the rush and in coverage.  Jones played the "mop up" WILLl role very well.  Evans was very agressive against the run, making several plays near or behind the line of scrimmage, and was decent in coverage as well.  

Demens wasn't playing obviously, but Gordon was mostly invisible.  At this point, I don`t think anyone has a starting spot in the LB core locked up.


June 16th, 2011 at 3:24 PM ^

My personal assessment is that we'll probably see Evans at WILL and Demens at MIKE . . . and then the SAM position might be a crap shoot between Cam Gordon and Jake Ryan.  I still think Gordon's too small to play the SAM and I'm not really sure where he fits right now.  He would be a good weakside 'backer in a Tampa 2 defense or perhaps even as a 3-4 OLB, but he doesn't seem to fit very well with what they're trying to do unless he packs on another 20 lbs. or so.


June 16th, 2011 at 3:38 PM ^

Pretty sure he's done that.  I'd bet that was the message the coaches gave him as soon as they arrived, and it looks like he's listened.  I posted this in a thread a few days ago, but I saw him recently and the eyeball test says he's put on a lot of good weight. 


June 16th, 2011 at 6:17 PM ^

I don't think this will happen, but after watching the spring game and the (admittedly limited) spring videos, I would actually love to see Evans at SAM, Demens at MIKE and Jones at WILL.  Evans just really impressed me with his agressive play and ability to really attack the LOS.  I think he deserves to be a starter somewhere in the LB unit.


June 17th, 2011 at 7:19 AM ^

Jones does not impress me at all.

I think Ryan and/or Gordon needs to start.  Ryan has been impressing everyone, and Gordon was one of our leading tacklers last year.  Jones . . . hasn't done anything.

There was a suggestion by a mod over at Rivals that we might even see Ryan start at WILL and Gordon at SAM, but that Ryan needs to be on the field somewhere.


June 16th, 2011 at 10:59 PM ^

I personally feel you and I agree on this point.. Cam is a football player, Im just not sure what position he should play yet.

Whats your take on the DL?

I mean, Campbell or bust is obviously a bit dramatic, and I really think that Wilkins Ash and QW are potential options.

Whats your take on the secondary.. do we go with Avery or hope that Flyod has somehow figured out how to run with receivers without giving up the out routes


June 17th, 2011 at 7:27 AM ^

DL: Van Bergen, Martin, Campbell, Roh/Black
I think we've got some options with Black, who can play either DE position.  Both he and Roh are going to be good, and frankly I'm not sure which one should start . . . but it probably doesn't matter, because both are going to play a lot.  

DB: Woolfolk, Johnson, Kovacs, Avery
Of course, this depends on how well Woolfolk recovers.  Johnson is a lock to start.  Kovacs might get passed up by Marvin Robinson at some point; I don't really think Mattison's defense plays to Kovacs' strengths.  And Avery is probably our second-best cover corner behind Woolfolk.  I don't think Floyd is an option for the field corner position because he's too slow/stiff, but he'd be the primary backup to Woolfolk on the boundary.


June 16th, 2011 at 3:01 PM ^

I thought he was plugged inside at the nose?  Also, did you mean to say "double" teams?  Holding up against a single block isn't that much of an accomplishment for any DL.

How about Kenny Wilkins?  And why so bullish on Black?  Great post, any more details are appreciated.  Interesting MROB plan, but Kovacs has been one of our best performers on D.  Robinson has such pop and impact on his tackles, but seems mistake prone at this point (which only means he's still young).  But I do think he's the starter at some point in '11.


June 16th, 2011 at 3:32 PM ^

There were times in the spring game that we sent our NT as a standup edge rusher.  I'm not sure Ash did this, but the first play of the spring game, Mike Martin was lined up on the edge.

I can see MRob taking the starting job if he can learn to read the offense as well as Kovacs. 


June 16th, 2011 at 3:49 PM ^

But not Ash - I'd be surprised (and very impressed) if he can move as freely as Martin in open space. 

I took my own video at the spring game, and watched it obsessively for several days.  I remember thinking "Ash, OK", but not much more than that (but what the hell do I know?).  Though admittedly I wasn't watching for him on most plays.  Someone posted recently on Ash over at Scout, saying he's been working out and becoming a beast.  Just a poster, not a mod or Trieu or anything like that.

Wilkins is a guy I watched at a lot, just because we need a back-up SDE this year.  He's also put on a lot of weight between this year and last.


June 16th, 2011 at 3:02 PM ^

I can't decide who I'm more excited about seeing more of in the future, Carvin Johnson, Ryan, or Avery.  I feel like all 3 can become really good players in the near future, including this season.


June 16th, 2011 at 11:28 PM ^

It's really easy to tackle people when they have no idea WTF they are doing on offense and many of the plays are "here I come, try and stop me."  

Really, none of it matters until they play Sparty anyway.  They should go 3-1 non-conference with hardly any improvement at all.  MInnesota shouldn't be too tough, and they should get by Northwestern.  The true test is when MSU struts onto their home field like they have odorless feces, and 70,000 drunks are spewing their hatred of all things Maize and Blue.  

A must-win game in a hostile environment: that is when we will see how much the defense has improved.


June 16th, 2011 at 11:55 PM ^

the true test is taking on ND and beating them at home. A lot of people around here feel that might be a reach game for us, and I think starting out 3-0 would go a long way in my mind of justifying certain things. That being said, if we beat ND and they put up 500 yds of offense again I will be in a "here we go again" mode.

Sparty is a turning point of the season. So is ND. Win those 2, and the players confidence and swagger will be back.


June 17th, 2011 at 9:41 AM ^

I played for 12 years and have now coached the linebackers at my alma mater for 3 years. A good tackler will approach the ballcarrier with shoulders square and feet light. When he is about 3 yards from the ballcarrier, player should break down sink the hips and end up on his toes while keeping the feet moving. When making contact, head is on the upfield side and at ball level. Arms should wrap, and feet should drive. For a larger ball carrier, you should then slide down to the knees and lock those out. Finally, no matter what happens, head needs to be UP.

And hold on. Your teammates will be along soon to deliver a punishing blow if you cannot bring them down yourself.. 

Edit: The linebacker corp of my most recent school team sent a prospect to D1 and has 2 juniors that are getting good D3  interest. 


June 17th, 2011 at 2:41 PM ^

Already using Suave shampoo to get the hair inn GERG status prior to my announcement as Mattisons successor.

But seriously, I have never been more frustrated by a tackling defense than last year. We had athletes in the right places but it was like they had not had a single practice live tackling at full speed. (which is possible based on depth).

GERG might have been partly resposible, as its a bit different asking a veteran NFL LB or S to take down a RB in space than a 190lb 18 year old whos last game he was possibly the biggest athelete on the field. His defense failed in my opinion because it required solid tacklers in space. If we had a senior and junior laden team, i think his D might have been a better fit.

King Douche Ornery

June 17th, 2011 at 9:59 AM ^

I have to believe the reduction in practice time over the years (15 measly spring practices, etc) has a major negative toll on form, fundamentals, and can lead to more injuries.

When will teams be allowed more practice time? Can't the NCAA understand they might be doing more harm than good with silly rules like limited practicing?


June 17th, 2011 at 11:37 AM ^

Any thoughts on lane assignments?  I felt last year that our biggest failing was getting killed with a big play anytime the ball reversed against the grain.  Clearly lane assignments weren't being maintained.  However, I felt the root cause of this was a lack of bodies with an appropriate size/speed combination to play in the B1G.  All of our front 7 (5?8? whatever) needed to constantly pursue the ball in order to have a chance to stop the run (not even this worked against Wis).  So, did we get bigger and faster over the offseason?  Hope so, because I don't think better technique is going to cure what ailed what we saw last year.  Go Blue!


June 17th, 2011 at 2:35 PM ^

The basis of the 4-3 is gap responsiblity. The biggest thing we need to have happen is the 4 front needs to occupy the front 5 of the offense... they can do this by showing that blocking them 1on1 will not get the job done. We need the SDE to require the TE to chip him before he releases to teh LB level, which should allow our LBs to fill faster than the TE can hook. Then its tight ends and FBs on LBs. Based on the type of LBs we have, I like our matchup there. That being said, the NT and the WDE have the responsibility for the counter. Roh needs to keep containment. Against TSIO he blew several potential tackles for loss by just letting Pryor out of contain. the NT is HUGE for us. If WC can get a solid 1-2 yard push on running plays that will go an extremely long way to limiting the cutbacks that KILLED us last year on the inside.

Secondly, good run support from the corners is essential, as that allows the DEs to, if they cannot turn the play back inside, to at least string it out to the sideline into a hopefully solid tackler. Safeties need to step up and plug any weak areas immediately, because if they start to fill when the RB is already at the second level, one wrong angle and its 90 yards and a quiet Michigan Stadium.


June 17th, 2011 at 4:54 PM ^

Seeing the Illinois game on TV this morning reminded me of just how bad we actually were on defense last year, I had forgotten...  Hopefully we can turn things around sooner rather than later.